The Fabulous Hudson Hornet

Trade catalog for the 1951 Hudson Hornet.

During the early 1950s, Hudson Motor Car Company was finding it increasingly difficult to compete as independent automaker against the American Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler). In an effort to boost sales and maintain its independence, the Detroit, Michigan-based company set about developing a high-performance car that it hoped would capture the imagination of the motoring public. Although the end result was not enough to save the company, Hudson did succeed in creating the hottest American car of the early 1950s and an automotive legend in the process: the 1951-1954 Hudson Hornet.

Positioned at the high end of Hudson’s model range and initially selling in the $2500-$3100 price range, the Hornet was essentially a modified version of the Hudson Commodore. It was built on the Commodore’s chassis and rode on a 123-inch wheelbase. The Hornet was also one of the first American cars to feature unit body construction. It was clothed with the Commodore’s sleek “Step Down” body, so named for its recessed floorboard, which gave the Hornet a lower ground clearance and a lower center of gravity than other American cars of the time. Outwardly, the Hornet was distinguishable from the Commodore by its gold and chrome plated “Skyliner Styling” head ornament and “Hornet H” badges on the front fenders. The car was also given a luxurious interior, which included striped upholstery and a chrome-appointed dashboard.

Trade catalog image of the 1952 Hudson Hornet and its standard H-145 engine.

But it was the Hornet’s high-performance capabilities that set it apart from other American cars of its day. Its low ground clearance and low center of gravity gave it outstanding road handling abilities. A range of 3 powerful 308 cubic-inch inline-6 engines became available over the course of the Hornet’s production life. Initially, the Hornet was powered by Hudson’s H-145 engine, which produced a then-impressive 145 horsepower and gave it a top speed approaching 100 miles per hour. As if this was not enough, starting in the 1952 model year, Hudson offered the famous engine option for the Hornet: the “Twin H-Power” engine. Equipped with 2 interconnected manifolds and twin dual-throat carburetors, the Twin H-Power engine produced an even more startling 170 horsepower. When fitted with this engine option, the Hornet had a top speed of around 107 miles per hour. In the 1953 model year, Hudson offered the Hornet’s rarest and most powerful engine option: the 7-X engine. Intended for competition use, it produced a then-staggering 210 horsepower.

Trade catalog image of the 1953 Hudson Hornet.

The Hornet’s reputation was further solidified by its dominating performance on the race track. Between 1951 and 1954, factory-backed teams of Hudson Hornets dominated both the NASCAR and AAA stock car racing circuits. Driven by top drivers that included Marshall Teague, Herb Thomas, and Tim Flock, the Hornets won most of the races they entered. Between the three of them, Teague, Thomas, and Flock won a combined total of 5 NASCAR and AAA driver championships.

Although the Hornet was an outstanding car, it was not enough to save Hudson. One reason for this was its styling, which was already outdated at the time of its introduction. The Hornet’s unit body construction made it too expensive for the financially-strapped company to restyle the body on a regular basis. The classic Hornet’s fate was sealed in 1954 when Hudson, irreparably damaged financially by the failure of the Hudson Jet compact car, merged with Nash-Kelvinator Corporation to form American Motors Corporation. The original Hudson Hornet was superseded by a Nash-based replacement for the 1955 model year.

Around 131,000 1951-1954 Hudson Hornets were built. Surviving examples are prized collectibles today.

Sources

Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile Volume 1: A-L; Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000, p. 729-730.

Hudson Car Club

Hudson for ’51 in 4 Matchless Series, Hudson: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Hudson Range, 1951-1957, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Hudson for ’52, Hudson: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Hudson Range, 1951-1957, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Hudson for ’53, Hudson: Trade Catalogs: Various Models: Hudson Range, 1951-1957, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Kowalke, Ron, ed., 4th Edition, Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1946-1975, Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1997, p. 465-466, 472-478.

Legends of NASCAR

McCourt, Mark J., “Hudson Hornet, 1951-1954,” Hemmings Motor News, June 2004

Performance Unlimited!, New Hudson Hornet, Hudson: Trade Catalogs: Specific Models: Hornet, Jet, Metropolitan, and Pacemaker, 1949-1954, Z. Taylor Vinson Collection, Hagley Museum and Library.

Kenton Jaehnig is the Project Archivist for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

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